Disclaimer: For the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Title challenge. Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Dick Grayson, Oracle, Black Canary, Ollie Queen and Maxine Michaels belong to DC Comics. Miz Jelena's Sweet Potato Pie belongs to Ben & Jerry.
Miz Jelena's Sweet Potato Pie
Half-a-ways between Metroplis proper and Route 201 from Gotham, along a little dusty side road not used for much but driving small farm vehicles from one end of a property to another, stands the Ravel Diner. It used to be called the Travel Diner, before the fluorescent bulbs in the 'T' fizzled out during a particularly stormy autumn.
A black Mercedes pulled off the highway and into the dirt parking lot. The purr of the engine hummed to silence and the door opened to allow a pair of gleaming leather shoes to step into the eddy of dust. They were followed by an expensive charcoal suit. The man wearing the suit and the shoes shut the door of his car and glanced across the informal parking area to the only other vehicle in the lot that could rightfully be called a car. A man leaned against its dusty blue exterior, a crumpled newspaper between his hands as his eyes scanned articles through his heavy glasses.
"Clark," the man in the suit and shoes greeted the other, fully aware that his approach had already been noticed.
"Bruce! There you are. Thanks for meeting me." Clark closed and folded his newspaper, tucking it inside his jacket pocket. He straightened and clasped hands with the other man. "Let's get some chow." He led the way past the collection of mud encrusted pick-up trucks parked closer to the diner and held the door for Bruce to walk through.
The inside of the diner didn't surprise Bruce. A lunch counter backed the right-hand wall, manned by waitresses in pink dresses and white aprons. A few men in dusty jeans and workboots sat on the revolving stools. The unoccupied seats spun lazily, stuffing peeking out from the cracked leather of the tuffets. Booths lined the far and left walls, with small tables clustered in odd groupings in the center of the floor. Bruce paused as Clark strode past him, leading to a particular empty booth against the far wall. He followed, noting that Clark appeared to have a 'usual' seat and filing this information away for later use.
The leather complained and the seat shuddered as he settled into it, deducing from Clark's smooth entrance that his discomfort was planned. Clark pushed a laminated menu across the table at her and opened his own, settling it on the table in front of him. Bruce scanned the assortment of omelets, sandwiches, and platters, noting a proliferation of gravy and the fifteen-cent charge for adding cheese to just about anything.
"You have to get Miz Jelena's Sweet Potato Pie," Clark told him, little-boy excitement creeping through his voice.
"I'm not much for sweet potato pie," Bruce returned, his eyes sketching quickly over the menu.
"Doesn't matter. You should try it."
Bruce quirked an eyebrow and glanced over the menu at the grinning ex-farmboy.
"All right," he said, snapping the menu closed. "Sweet potato pie it is."
"Miz Jelena's Sweet Potato Pie," Clark reminded him.
"Right." Bruce's eyes cut to the service counter where an elderly black woman presided over the flock of waitresses. "And should I assume that's Miz Jelena?"
Bruce's eyebrow climbed his forehead again.
"This is what everyone orders when they come here?"
"Nope. Just me. And everyone else who likes it."
Before Bruce could make another wager at what origin might be behind Clark's veneration of the dish, a waitress in her mid-thirties, with a dishwater blonde ponytail and white sneakers leaned her hip against their table. Her nametag proclaimed her 'Caroline'.
"What can I get you fellas today?" she asked around a wad of gum tucked firmly away in her left cheek.
"I'll have the sweet potato pie and an iced tea," Bruce requested, handing her the menu.
"Miz Jelena's Sweet Potato Pie?" Caroline clarified, ignoring the menu. Clark quietly removed it from Bruce's hand and tucked it back behind the condiment rack.
"Is there another sweet potato pie?" Bruce asked, more out of curiosity than intentional rudeness, flashing one of his patented heart-melting playboy smiles.
"Not in this county," Caroline sniffed, making an infinitesimal scrawl on her pad and turning to Clark. "Usual, Clark?"
"Yes, ma'am," Clark confirmed. "Thanks."
"My pleasure." Caroline spared Bruce one last condescending glance, then turned on her heel and flounced back to the kitchen.
"Was it something I said?" Bruce asked, his smile dying.
"It's always nice to watch you win friends and influence people," Clark said instead of answering him.
"Am I here for a reason or were you just looking for someone to heckle?" Bruce asked with as much humor as anyone who knew him could detect.
"Actually," Clark admitted, tucking his own menu behind the ketchup with Bruce's, "I wanted to ask you how Dick was doing."
"Who have you been talking to?"
"Reporter by the name of Maxine Michaels published an article in the Bludhaven Gazette. Former Flying Grayson and Current Wayne Heir Dick Grayson shot in the line of duty. I contacted Oracle to make sure he was doing ok, and she said you were being a bigger pain than the bullet."
"Oracle," Bruce announced darkly, wrapping his fingers around a fork, "has been spending too much time with Black Canary."
"You like Dinah," Clark reminded him, smiling up at Caroline who was setting down their drinks. "Thanks, Caroline."
"Thanks," Bruce added.
"No problem," she replied to Clark, pointedly ignoring Bruce and returning to the counter.
"At least you liked her when she was active in the League," Clark said, returning to the topic of their conversation before Caroline had interrupted.
"Queen made her look good," Bruce said succinctly, stabbing his straw into his iced tea.
"Ollie's a good man," Clark placated, "he just had--has--his own ideas of how to go about promoting that good. And they're not yours." Clark took a quick drink from his milk glass and continued talking before Bruce could edge in his own opinion. "Nice subject change, by the way. Now what's up with Dick?"
"Shot in the line of duty," Bruce said crisply. "Flesh wound. Oracle told you that already."
"She didn't give me details."
Bruce leveled a scornful glare on Clark.
"All right, so she did." Clark took another drink of milk and wiped away his milk mustache. "But I didn't hear it from you."
"Miz Jelena's Sweet Potato Pies?" Caroline asked, as if she didn't know, holding a round tray with the pie plates.
"Great, thank you!" Clark replied enthusiastically as Caroline set a small round tinfoil plate in front of each of them. Bruce didn't say anything, just watched Caroline.
"Sure thing, honey," she said with a smile. "Ya'll enjoy now."
"She doesn't have the first clue who I am," Bruce realized, watching her walk away.
"Nope," Clark confirmed, shaking out his napkin and peeling back the tinfoil from his pie.
"Hm." Bruce seemed pleased by this thought and celebrated by examining his lunch. He mirrored Clark's removal of the foil cup and tucked his fork into the creamy tart. The sweet potato was thick and creamy with no trace of stringy fibers, laced liberally with cinnamon. The pastry crust was flaky and sweet, dissolving into floury bits in his mouth. Marshmallow topping was spread thinly over the top, and small chunks of marshmallow dotted the interior. Whole pecans crowned the top of the pie.
Bruce glanced up to see Clark watching him expectantly.
"Delicious," he confirmed. "Even if I'm not much for sweet potato pie."
"Miz Jelena's Sweet Potato Pie," Clark expounded.
"Good. So why don't you want Dick to be a cop?"
"You never were much with subtlety," Bruce observed wryly, taking another bite of pie. He picked up his napkin--white linen, he realized with a bit of surprise--and patted his mouth.
"And never claimed to be."
There were several minutes of silence as Bruce ate his pie thoughtfully and Clark watched Bruce eat his pie.
"Dick's a hero, y'know," Clark finally said when it was clear Bruce was probably never going to get around to saying anything.
"Of course," Bruce replied, pride glimmering from the quirk at the corner of his mouth and lurking behind the blue of his eyes. The rest of his expression claimed he was affronted that Clark would suggest otherwise.
"I don't mean just as Nightwing," Clark elucidated. "He's a hero just by putting on that blue uniform every day. As Dick Grayson he's a hero and I get the idea he likes it that way."
"He got shot," Bruce said quietly. "Cops in Bludhaven are targets. And he said he'd quit."
Clark frowned at Bruce's line of reasoning and watched Bruce detach another bite of pie from his tinfoil plate.
"He got shot by Deathstroke," Clark said, confused. "Let's not try to compare apples and oranges here, Bruce. He's in as much danger, if not more, as Nightwing."
"Yes, let's not compare apples and orange, Clark. At...night...Dick has abilities and tools he can utilize to keep him safe. He has backup he can trust--"
"You mean backup you trust."
"If I trained them, I trust them," Bruce said, leaving the flipside unvoiced.
"You're mad that he was protecting his partner."
"I'm concerned that he had to protect his partner. The people he's working with have not been trained as well as he has."
"Then don't they need him? Can't he help raise the standards of the department? From what I've seen, he's already doing a good job weeding out the corruption."
"He can't. He has to hold back."
"Why?" Clark furrowed his brow and took a long drink of milk.
"He has a secret identity to protect," Bruce replied, giving Clark a significant look. "Several, in fact."
Clark opened his jacket and pulled out the newspaper he'd been reading outside. "Former Flying Grayson, Bruce," he reminded his friend. "He's got a cover story built right in."
"Former," Bruce returned. "He still has skills, training, far beyond what he should have."
"Living in the home of a billionaire who would do anything to make his orphan ward happy? He can tell them there's a whole circus arena set up in the basement of Stately Wayne Manor." Clark paused to consider. "It's pretty close to the truth, after all."
"The current Robin figured out those secret identities after watching Robin do a quadruple somersault--the same one Dick Grayson was famous for."
"Bruce." Clark gave Bruce a sympathetic look. "You know as well as I do that he can't do that anymore."
"I don't want a connection made." Bruce met Clark's eyes deliberately. "And yes, he still can."
"He needs a heck of a freefall."
Bruce's jaw hardened, a sign of acquiescence. Clark had scored a point. Dick had grown up, his broadened shoulders and tall frame changing his natural center of balance and restricting some of the twists and somersaults that had once come naturally across a seven foot stretch of air.
"Bruce, say he quit the force. Say he followed your orders and turned in his badge. Then what would he do?"
"He wouldn't have to 'do' anything," Bruce said, balancing a forkful of pie in one hand and using the other to lift Clark's copy of the Bludhaven Gazette. "Besides being the 'Wayne Heir', he's independently wealthy from trust funds his parents set up. If he wanted to do anything, he could go back to school and get his bachelor's and then a law degree or maybe his MBA. He is getting custody of a multi-trillion dollar global corporation someday."
"And that would make his life worthy?" Clark took his last bite of pie and washed it down with the last swallow of his milk. "Higher education and a suit-and-tie job? Do you think Jim Gordon would be a better person if he'd gone back to school and started shopping at Armani?"
Bruce's jaw tightened as he poked the end of his pie, but he didn't respond.
"Heh. Still a bit of a snob in you, Bruce."
"Jim Gordon is one of the finest men I've met," Bruce said stiffly. "And I respect his profession and the men and women who follow him. I just don't want Dick to be one of them."
"C'mon, Bruce. Dick's fighting crime night and day and if you told me he didn't have time, I'd believe you, but he seems to be pulling it off and you haven't even come up with that as a complaint. He's protecting people, he's doing it legally..." Clark gave Bruce a significant look. "...He's got a cover story for his training...I know you don't trust the resources of Bludhaven PD, but you trusted Jim Gordon with Gotham and you trust Dick alone in Bludhaven without you or Robin immediately at his back. So what's wrong? Why are you so hellbent against this cop thing?"
"I don't like him carrying a gun." The words were admitted stonily and punctuated with a savage final stab at the sweet potato pie. "I don't like guns, Clark, you know that."
"And so does he."
Bruce jammed the pie-laden fork into his mouth.
"If a policeman had been in the alley that night," Clark asked while Bruce's mouth was full, "and had gotten off a shot at the man who killed your parents...what then?"
"I'd still hate guns," Bruce said, wiping his mouth with the white linen napkin. "But at least I'd have my parents.
Clark accepted the grudging last words as a concession.
"I'll get this one," he said, reaching for the bill.
"No." Bruce's hand was already there, sliding the slip of paper away before he could argue. "This one's on me." A fifty-dollar bill appeared from the depths of a leather wallet that probably cost twice that, and was tucked under the ketchup bottle.
Both men stood, lapels were straightened, and expensive polished shoes squeaked over the linoleum as they headed for the door, the bespectacled one holding it steady for the other to pass.
"Thanks for the tip," Bruce said with the car door open and his hand resting on top. "You've got quite a knack for finding the best thing on the menu."
"Miz Jelena's Sweet Potato Pie isn't the best thing on the menu, Bruce," Clark told him before he disappeared into his own car. "But it's my favorite."